Friendship by Emily Gould

416XLw+RNELIn Emily Gould’s latest book, Friendship, Amy and Bev are long-time friends trying to figure out work, life and romance in New York City. On the surface, these two young women couldn’t seem more different. Amy, raised in a posh suburb on Long Island, has led a charmed life. She’s got a great boyfriend, a fabulous apartment, a cool job with a website called “Yidster,” and some semblance of Internet fame from her days as a blogger with a notorious and hot gossipy website.

Originally from the Midwest, Bev, on the other hand, finds her romantic life lacking, is a grad school dropout, lives in a crappy apartment with less than desirable roommates, and supports herself (barely) through a series of no-future temp jobs. Still, she and Amy have a strong bond that they figure will last them forever. They know each others’ flaws and foibles, and love each other anyway, just like friends always do.

About to turn 30, a time when many people take assessment of their lives, both Amy and Bev are about to be hit with some major changes. Charmed for far too long, Amy’s habit of screwing over her co-workers and other bloggers leads to her leaving Yidster. Her boyfriend dumps her and she faces an eviction notice. Bev, on the other hand, gets pregnant through a one-night stand, can’t find decent permanent employment, is crushed by student loan debt and doesn’t know if she can face her loved ones with her pathetic plight in life. Shouldn’t she have it together by now? And what is Amy’s problem?

At the same time, Amy and Bev befriend a woman named Sally and during one week-end, get to housesit Sally’s home in upstate New York. On the surface, Sally seems to have it all. She’s creative and artistic. She is married to a successful man named Jason. They’ve got a beautiful home and lots of money.

But looks can be deceiving. Sally’s marriage is on shaky ground. She calls herself a writer, but has barely written a word. And she’s also dealing with infertility.

Throughout Friendship, we get to know more about Amy, Bev (and Sally) through their respective pasts and how their past lives shaped them into their current forms. Amy’s past Internet success seems to be based more on her ability to promote herself and every intimate detail of her life than her ability as a writer. Bev had followed her boyfriend to Madison, Wisconsin only to have her heart trampled on by the jerk. She also messed up as a grad student. And Sally’s past includes time as a stripper, which a turns seems both subversive and shameful.

And then there are their current circumstances. Sally finds out Jason has cheated on her (you’ll have to read the book to find out who Jason slept with). Amy needs to find a job and a new apartment, pronto! And Bev is faced with the daunting task of either having an abortion or going through the pregnancy and either raising a child as a single mother or giving the baby up for adoption.

Amy and Bev find themselves tested in ways they never imagined. And now these challenges are starting to test their long-time friendship, and maybe not for the better.

Interestingly, enough, it is Bev who seems to handle her challenges a bit better than Amy. Unwed pregnancy seems to be a catalyst for her to get it together. As for Amy, having things just work out for without her putting in much effort seems to be catching up with her and she’s having more difficulty. And her sense of entitlement also seems to be holding her back.

As for Sally, unbeknownst to her, the potential of divorce and no chance of a biological child might be a slightly skewed road to true fulfillment.

For the most part, I did like Friendship. Gould is a gifted writer who captures both the big and small moments of female friendship—the girl talk, both silly and profound, the arguments and the make-up apologies, the nights out on the town, and so on. Gould is also has a flair for the descriptive. I could see the meetings in Yidster’s offices. I could see Sally and Jason’s gorgeous upstate New York home. I could see Bev filling out a temp agency’s application form. And I could also experience the sights and sounds of New York City.

However, I did find there were parts of the book that felt a bit flat. The male characters are drawn rather thin and at times, interchangeable. I found Amy better written than Bev but maybe because I have an inkling Gould was basing a bit of Amy on herself (Gould used to write for Gawker). The ending was also a bit pat, as if Gould had grown a bit bored and wanted to wrap things up and move onto her next project.

Still, Friendship is several steps up from the usual shallow garbage that passes for women’s literature and was a pleasurable way to cap off my summer reading.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

bad-feminist1True story. As a child, I began to call myself a feminist because Gloria Steinem was much cooler than Phyllis Schlafly. Gloria was so pretty with her long, streaked hair, aviator glasses, and stylish outfits. Phyllis Schlafly had that stupid beehive and dressed like a frump. Plus, she looked really, really mean! Gloria was the beautiful, sweet princess, and Phyllis was the evil witch who would probably cast horrific spells on naughty girls like me. My mom taught me I shouldn’t judge people on their looks, but I just couldn’t help it.

Yes, girl child Bookish Jen, a fledgling woman’s libber, was a “bad feminist.”

And thank goodness, I’m not alone because Roxane Gay is also a bad feminist. And she writes about it in her collection of essays called Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist not only focuses on feminism, but also focuses race, sexuality, media, politics, and at times—Gay, herself. Bad Feminist is both heartbreaking and hilarious, and often made me think in whole new ways. And with Gay’s wise and witty writing style you almost feel like you’re talking with a dear friend.

Gay is a professor, writer and novelist. In Bad Feminist’s introduction, she proudly calls herself a feminist, but perhaps not the type of feminist she thinks she should be according the an ever-shifting “concept” of feminism. She loves the color pink, is nostalgic for the “Sweet Valley High” books, has teenage-like crushes on famous dudes, watches cheesy reality television shows, and can’t help but groove out to catchy hip hop songs despite their often misogynistic lyrics.

Gay is bad feminist, and she’s bad enough to realize feminism has its flaws. Feminism is often seen as “middle class white lady” thing. Sometimes feminism is viewed as overtly academic or only for those strivers aiming for the executive boardroom. Feminism has often been accused of ignoring women of color, lesbians, working class women and the poor. However, feminism is better than nothing and is constantly evolving and changing, hopefully, to be more inclusive. And if Gay is a so-called bad feminist it is because she’s a flawed human and sometimes she messes up. Hey, don’t we all?

And lots not forget that a lot of misguided people construe feminists as man hating shrews. The term “feminazi,” anyone?

After the introduction, Gay focuses on herself, as black woman, a child of Haitian immigrants, a long-time college student and finally a professional with a good job. I especially liked her essay “Typical First Year Professor,” in which Gay documents the triumphs and tribulations of being a novice professor. Her love for her students (and her frustrations) is touching and at times maddening. To Gay, teaching means more to her than a decent paycheck every month, though she admits she admits she likes earning that paycheck after years of being a broke student.

Gay’s essays on gender and sexuality focus on how entertainment portrays women. She has opinions on everything from Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls” to the huge comedy hit “Bridesmaids,” both praising and criticizing these pop culture sensations. Gay also gives a shout-out to the woefully underrated sitcom, “Girlfriends,” which ran for several seasons portraying black women as multi-faceted human beings. Gay also offers her opinions on the Miss America Pageant and the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, body issues, Hanna Rosin’s controversial book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, Chris Brown and the girls who still love him, and gay celebrities coming out of the closet. Her dissection of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series of erotica made me realize I could laugh myself silly while also holding back my vomit (Fifty Shades’ writing is just awful). And Gay’s essay “How to Be Friends with Another Woman” should be read by every female by the time she reaches middle school.

But it’s her essay “What We Hunger For” that nearly broke my heart. In this essay, Gay discusses her love for the “Hunger Games” franchise, and her brutal rape as a young girl. Reading “What We Hunger For” made me want to comfort Gay and take all of her pain away while get revenge on her attackers. I was filled with sorrow and filled with rage. This essay also got to me on a personal level because I was also a victim of a violent crime. I was mugged and beaten years ago. Gay’s essay made me ask, “How women stay strong after being so violated?” Well, we just do. We don’t have a choice.

In Gay’s collection of essays on race and entertainment, she forced me to look at the best-selling book The Help and its Hollywood adaptation with a new mindset. Gay admits her reservations about the critically-acclaimed movies Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave. And she takes Tyler Perry to task for his portrayals of black women and the working class.

However, it’s her essay “The Last Day of a Young Black Man” that truly got to me and made me think of the issues of race, privilege and prejudice in our so-called “post-racial” society. In this essay Gay discusses the true story of Oscar Grant, a young black man who was killed by the police on New Year’s Day at an Oakland BART station and the outrage and protests that followed. Oscar Grant’s tragically short life was made into a movie called “Fruitvale Station,” which showed not just Grant’s heartbreaking death, but also showed who he truly was as a son, a boyfriend, a father, and a friend. Oddly, enough I read this essay soon after we all learned of the death of another young black man, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of a police officer and the subsequent cries of outrage and protests, police brutality (often aimed at young black men) and our often misleading 24/7 media.

In another collection of essays Gay calls “Politics, Gender and Race,” Gay discusses the trouble black people have with behaving in the narrow parameters of what black people are supposed to “act.” She discusses Twitter vs. mainstream journalism and how even in 2014 women are still fighting to control their own reproductive rights.

In “A Tale of Two Profiles” Gay dissects the “rock star” treatment of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the less-forgiving portrayals of black victims of violence like Trayvon Martin (and now Michael Brown). This mind-blowing essay is more than food for thought; it is a damn buffet!

In the final collection of essays, Gay circles back to herself, feminism and her place in feminism. In Bad Feminist, Gay readily admits feminism gave women privileges our grandmothers couldn’t even dream of—access to furthering our education, professional success, reproductive rights, the right to vote, having our voices heard via various types of media. Even with all her self-perceived flaws, Gay knows she owes a lot to feminism. Or as she so rightly puts it, “I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout out to Milwaukee’s very own Boswell Book Company, a wonderful independent book store. On August 8th, Boswell hosted a book discussion and Q & A with Ms. Gay about her book Bad Feminist and it was an amazing evening. I don’t think I would have discovered Ms. Gay and her book if it wasn’t for Boswell. Thank you Boswell Book Company!

Brag Book

271040d6a7385ecf726f6cb706a1294fI sent Jimmy Dore a link to my review of his book Your Country Is Just Not That Into You and he loved it! He told me he was flattered and he appreciated I wrote such a great review.

He also gave me and my blog a shout out on his Facebook fan page (scroll down) and so far it has 13 likes!!!! Okay, I’m sure most of those likes are for Jimmy getting a positive review, and not for me, but still, it’s pretty cool, right?

 

Your Country Is Just Not That Into You: How the Media, Wall Street, and Both Political Parties Keep on Screwing You—Even After You’ve Moved On by Jimmy Dore

Your Country_Meet Jimmy Dore. He’s a Midwestern boy, born and raised in Chicago, a recovering Roman Catholic, a very funny guy, a writer with a gifted way with words, and a proud member of the progressive left. In other words, my kind of guy!

Dore makes his living as a stand-up comic. He’s appeared on Comedy Central in his one-man show “Citizen Jimmy,” Last Comic Standing, Live with Jimmy Kimmel and the Late, Late Show. He has his own podcast, The Jimmy Dore Show and brings the funny to the political talk show The Young Turks.

Since the death of the wonderful George Carlin, I’ve often wondered if there is comedian who can discuss our current political state that is both side-splitting funny and thought-provoking (I can only imagine what the late Mr. Carlin would think of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, John “The Weeping Cheeto” Boehner, our corporate-bought politicians and our corporate-owned media). Well, I think I found this person in Jimmy Dore. And now Dore brings his sharply focused wit to his book Your Country Is Just Not That Into You: How the Media, Wall Street, and Both Political Parties Keep on Screwing You—Even After You’ve Moved On.

In this very funny book, Dore skewers the media, religion, Wall Street and corporate America, Republicans and Democrats.

In the introduction of Your Country Is Just Not Into You Dore asks, “Do You pay attention to your fucking life?!” This rather profane question was initially aimed at Dore’s friend Greg who had lost his job, was looking for work and was worrying about taking care of himself and his family. When Dore asked Greg whom he was voting for in the 2008 Presidential election, Greg answered, “Oh, I don’t pay attention to politics.” Hence, Dore’s potty-mouthed response.

In other words, the personal is political.

After the introduction, Dore takes a hard-hitting look at what’s wrong with our media, or as Sarah Palin likes to call it, “the lame stream media, you betcha.” A lot of people think the mainstream media is liberal. Yea, right. Dore comments how hard it is for the media to be liberal when so much of it is owned by corporate overlords like Disney, Time Warner, General Electric, and an Australian guy you may have heard of named Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch owns several newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Post, and get this…The Village Voice. The Village Voice?

And when it comes to the medium of TV and film, Murdoch owns Fox News, Direct TV, and Twentieth-Century Fox. He even owns the Dow Jones!!!! Dore envisions a scary moment when Murdoch decides to buy the alphabet, even that pesky letter Q.

Sure, it’s common knowledge that Fox News is very conservative, but Dore also convincingly mentions how CNN and MSNBC aren’t exactly as lefty as we may think.

Dore also doesn’t waste time skewering such media super stars like Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, and that member of the lucky sperm club, Luke Russert. Dore is also fearless when discussing David Gregory (recently let go from “Meet the Press”), various Fox News fembots, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews.

After ripping apart the media, Dore rips up the current state of the Republican Party. When writing about the GOP in the 21st century, Dore doesn’t fail to call out the usual suspects—George W. Bush, John Boehner, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, New Gingrich-and their policies, ideas and concepts on what’s wrong with this country and how they make things “right.” Many of these issues include race, women’s rights, the environment, the economy, the military, and big business. Dore isn’t also afraid to call out the Tea Party for their bigoted shit. And he wonders how so many people can vote for a party that doesn’t have their best interests at heart. I found myself both nodding my head and holding my sides in from all my giggling. His “phone call” from Rick Santorum’s sweater vest had me reeling.

However, despite being a commie pinko homo who probably eats babies, Dore isn’t afraid to take on his fellow Democrats, also known as, “Republican Lite.” Dore mentions his disappointment with President Barack Obama and laments how the liberal, populist candidate Obama got replaced by a more conservative, Wall Street-owned President Obama. Dore calls out other disappointing Democrats like Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. He gets us to admit the Democratic donkey looks oddly like an elephant these days. And let’s be honest; the Democrats are owned by big business as much as the Republicans.

Dore also shares this wonderful quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of the private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

Can you imagine any modern day Democrat saying that in 2014? Well, maybe my girl crush, Elizabeth Warren.

Further along in Your Country Is Just Not That Into You, Dore targets Wall Street, religion and everything else under the sun, which includes the evisceration of the poor and the struggling, Occupy Wall Street, school teachers, unions, common sense gun control and Edward Snowden.

Dore is one very pissed off man, granted a very humorous pissed off man. But he proves that not is all lost in his final chapter “P.S. America, I Love You.” In this chapter, Dore proudly mentions what is right about the United States. We created the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We are a nation of immigrants who continue to shape this nation in so many positive ways. We gave the world rock and roll, jazz, the blues, and hip hop. Justin Bieber? Nope, you can blame our friends to the north, Canada, for that little punk ass.

And Dore proudly states it is right here in the USA where stand-up comedy was born. Thank goodness, or else Dore might be asking, “You want fries with that?” I kid, I kid.

Our country produced the likes of Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, whose technological genius revolutionized the globe (and yes, sometimes bug us, but you’ll get my smart phone out of my cold, dead hands).

In two generations we went from bombing black churches to electing a black man as president. And my grandmothers were born in a time when women couldn’t vote and now our next president just might be a woman.

Dore proudly mentions our country is becoming more progressive all the time, and you know what? He’s right. Less than fifty years ago, homosexuality was seen as a psychiatric disorder and now several states have legalized same sex marriage. A few years ago I interviewed a young woman who formed a gay/straight alliance at her high school. There is no way we would have formed a gay/straight alliance at my high school. Well, actually we did have a gay/straight alliance; it was called forensics.

America is a nation of people who are willing to stick their necks out and fight for what we believe in and will do whatever we can to make this a better place for everyone.

Your Country Is Just Not That Into You is a must-read for every liberal, and I think even some conservatives folks out there will find something valuable between its covers. I’m really glad I chanced upon Dore’s book and I recommend it to everyone who cares about this little patch on the planet call the United States of America.

Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolJust what we’re all waiting for, a coffee table book of Kim Kardashian’s selfies.

To cleanse the palate, how the late Robin Williams’ movie “Dead Poets Society” inspired a generation.

Ten YA Novels that would make great movies (and why it won’t happen). Actually, Hanging Out With Cici by Francine Pascal was made into an ABC Afternoon Special called “My Mom Was Never a Kid.” I remember watching it. And now I just might re-read Hanging Out With Cici for a retro review.

LifeWay, a large Christian book retailer pulls books Pastor Mark Driscoll’s from its shelves. Wow, this Pastor Driscoll sounds like a real gem (yes, that was sarcasm). And is just me, or does he have a totally punchable face? You just know he has a drawer full of Ed Hardy t-shirts.

Ten people libraries truly need.

Remember How I Told You I Loved You by Gillian Linden

18100371In Gillian Linden’s debut collection of short stories, Remember How I Told You I Love You, we meet a young woman named Karen. Remember How I Told You I Love You follows Karen from college to her days as a young married woman. Through out this collection of stories, we get to know Karen and a cast of characters who drift in and out of her life.

Karen is introduced in the opening story, “Common Rooms.” A college student, Karen is shy and awkward. She soon befriends Lizzie. Together they share stories of separate trips to Italy and a fondness for Limoncello. They also gossip about a professor who they believe is having an affair with a student who is most notable for wearing a nose stud. Karen and Lizzie’s friendship is shortly threatened when Lizzie begins dating a guy named Brian.

Later on in the collection, in the story, “Ham and Crackers,” Karen deals with two low-paying jobs tedious jobs and the task of navigating the disappointment of the real world after the safe cushion of college. At one job, Karen takes care of an aging woman named Bette.

And in the final story “Pests” Karen is now married and dealing with a perceived infestation of mice and an obnoxious dog trainer for a recently acquired dog. And speaking of dogs, Karen is oddly treated by her husband as if she’s a puppy in need of same training and maybe a treat if she behaves well.

Throughout Remember How I Told You I Loved You are stories of people connected to Karen in some fashion or another. For instance, in the story “Crowded Skies” Karen’s old college roommate, Lizzie, is marrying Brian and their friends seem to all be on the same flight to their wedding. Other stories share woes of crappy jobs, bad relationships and the odd ennui many twenty-somethings go through once college has ended and they adjust to the harsh reality of adulthood.

I really wanted to like this book. As someone who has made it through her twenties somewhat intact, I knew I’d relate to the characters’ uncertainty, struggles, bad jobs, love won and lost, arguments with friends and the fear of independence. And I liked the concept of short stories that are intermingled through one character rather than stories that stand alone with different characters and different plots.

However, the execution left something to be desired. Linden is a decent writer. Well, she does seem to know the difference from a verb and a noun. And I don’t think all stories have to have dynamic, exciting plots. Stories that are character-driven can be very interesting indeed. But Linden doesn’t write interesting characters. Despite Karen and her friends’ issues, I didn’t find them compelling. I found them to be boring and not fully-developed. In fact, the student with the nose ring who was allegedly having an affair with a professor stood out more to me than anybody else. And as I kept reading this book I found myself confused, mixing up characters because they weren’t written with defining features that made them memorable in a convincing way.

The book jacket describes the stories written in a deadpan humorous way, but I didn’t chuckle once. Never once did I even crack a smile. So much for deadpan humor. Instead, I found the stories dull and dispassionate.

Interestingly enough, it is the titular story that I found somewhat for interesting. In this story, Daphne moves in with her boyfriend Dennis. Though Dennis has proclaimed his love for Daphne, she can’t help but feel her doubts especially considering Dennis is working all the time and a woman from his past named Natalie arrives to possibly upset the couple. And oddly, this story seems to have almost no connection to Karen. I kind of wish Linden would have fleshed-out this story to an actual novel, and Karen and her woeful band of friends were put into the delete pile.

Ultimately, Remember How I Told You How I Loved You is pretty darn forgetful and best left on the book store or library shelf. There are other collections of short stories worth reading, and I hope to find them.